Flow cytometry method for absolute counting and single-cell phenotyping of mycobacteria

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Detection and accurate quantitation of viable Mycobacterium tuberculosis is fundamental to understanding mycobacterial pathogenicity, tuberculosis (TB) disease progression and outcomes; TB transmission; drug action, efficacy and drug resistance. Despite this importance, methods for determining numbers of viable bacilli are limited in accuracy and precision owing to inherent characteristics of mycobacterial cell biology-including the tendency to clump, and "differential" culturability-and technical challenges consequent on handling an infectious pathogen under biosafe conditions. We developed an absolute counting method for mycobacteria in liquid cultures using a bench-top flow cytometer, and the low-cost fluorescent dyes Calcein-AM (CA) and SYBR-gold (SG). During exponential growth CA + cell counts are highly correlated with CFU counts and can be used as a real-time alternative to simplify the accurate standardisation of inocula for experiments. In contrast to CFU counting, this method can detect and enumerate cell aggregates in samples, which we show are a potential source of variance and bias when using established methods. We show that CFUs comprise a sub-population of intact, metabolically active mycobacterial cells in liquid cultures, with CFU-proportion varying by growth conditions. A pharmacodynamic application of the flow cytometry method, exploring kinetics of fluorescent probe defined subpopulations compared to CFU is demonstrated. Flow cytometry derived Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) time-kill curves differ for rifampicin and kanamycin versus isoniazid and ethambutol, as do the relative dynamics of discrete morphologically-distinct subpopulations of bacilli revealed by this high-throughput single-cell technique.

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Volume 11
Issue number 1
Pages 18661
Available online
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